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Serious Medical Errors Due to Miscommunication

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Hospitals can be scary places.  Add the risk of a medical error, and it really seems  frightening. 

A study from the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Health found that “an estimated 80% of serious medical errors involve  miscommunication between caregivers [medical professionals] when responsibility for a patient is transferred or handed-off.”  These transition times, when one set of clinicians transmit patient information and release the care of the patient to another set of clinicians,  occur with staffing changes due to shift changes, or moves within a hospital facility. 

The study found that  breakdowns in communication can lead to serious physical or psychological injury, and even death.  There may also be “delays in treatment, inappropriate treatment, and increased length of stay in the hospital”.   The hospitals participating in this study discovered that “more than 37% of the hand-offs were defective”.  

What Can You Do?

Although this study was focused on what the health professionals can do to ensure smoother hand-offs, there are things that the patient and/or family caregiver can do to ease these transitions. 

Roberta Carson suggests the following: 

  • Have a family member or other trusted adult with the patient in the hospital at all times.
  • Have a family caregiver participate in the “rounds” – the group discussions that are being held by the team each day.  The medical team may require written authorization from the patient giving permission for the family caregiver to speak to the medical team on his/her behalf. 
  • The family caregiver should talk with each medical professional who is caring for the patient to make sure they have the right patient, the right diagnosis, the right treatment and the right medications.
  • If something doesn’t seem correct – speak up!

Read the October 2010 report at:  The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare | Newsroom

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